Big Brother Time


Today is an exciting day for me because today is when my favorite reality TV show, Big Brother, returns to the air on CBS for it’s 11th season. I love this show and I think that anyone who is a student of human behavior would love it as well. I think the show is brilliantly designed and I’d love to work behind the scenes in this show. But I digress.

In case you haven’t watched the show, here’s how it works. A bunch of over-zealous, money-hungry fame seekers are put together inside the Big Brother house. They cannot leave the house once they are in (until they are kicked out). The house isn’t anything fancy, it consists of several bedrooms which the contestants must share, large living and kitchen spaces, a private “head of household” bedroom and an outdoor enclosed Courtyard with a pool and hot tub. Each week, the contestants compete to become the “head of household” or HOH. Besides having his/her own private bedroom for the week, the HOH also gets special privileges like certain foods, pictures of friends and family from home, AND the power to nominate 2 other contestants (or “houseguests”) for eviction from the house that week. Each week, once the HOH nominates 2 houseguests for eviction, there is a “veto” competition where a nominated houseguest (or one of the others) can win the ability to veto their nomination for eviction. Each week then culminates with the eviction of one contestant and then the cycle repeats until there is just one left standing.

The game is one of strategy, deception, and skill. Big Brother introduces other interesting twists throughout the game including food competitions where the houseguests can earn certain foods for the week. If they fail, they are “on slop” for the week (which is apparently some kind of nasty looking and tasting grits-type substance) which makes people both hungry and irritable. The whole show is designed to create interesting interactions and frictions between the people in the house and it’s wildly entertaining.

So, if you aren’t convinced to watch yet, here’s a list of seven reasons why you should watch Big Brother:

  1. These contestants knew what they were signing up for so that makes it okay to delight in their agony and torture. Just kick back and enjoy the ride.
  2. The contests are brilliant in their design. Each contest brings some new twist that tests mental ability or physical endurance. They are designed to break people. Some of the contests last hours. It’s interesting to watch how different people respond to each challenge.
  3. The game relies heavily on political and social skill. If you pay attention, you can learn a lot about how to be successful with people in high-stakes situations. On the flip side, you can learn more about how people with no integrity approach the same types of situations. (People at work often behave the same way).
  4. Big Brother represents what HR is trying not to be, so pay close attention. All of the rules of the house are essentially “Big Brother” policies. They create and hurl these policies on the houseguests. In this case, the policies are designed to wreak havoc, but the way in which these policies are enforced probably feels to the houseguests like many of our employees feel at times. On the show, these “policies” are introduced randomly and without explanation. When they are rolled out, they create chaos and unsettle the house. Hmmm, does that sound familiar?
  5. Summer television sucks. There’s nothing to watch. Big Brother is on 3 nights a week. Problem solved.
  6. Attractive people (if you are into that sort of thing). These houseguests were not selected by accident.
  7. Integrity and trust always end up being an interesting part of the game. The houseguests make secret alliances and deals with one another from week to week. It’s very common for a houseguest to play two groups or people against one another. It’s always intriguing to see if the players who play with integrity come out on top (warning: the good guys don’t always win.). I think you can learn about how individuals (and specifically leaders) in our companies make similar types of moves to advance their careers.

I hope you will check it out.

What’s your favorite reality TV show and why?



  1. I rarely watch TV, but I do like The Bachelor. If Big Brother is like one big Psychology experiment, I liken The Bachelor to one big Evolutionary Pych experiment. Male searches for Female, narrows down choices each week based on sexual attraction…after a few weeks starts to narrow down choices by potential for spending future (childbearing years) together. Male chooses one female, realizes the thrill of the hunt is over and ends relationship. Ha ha.

    Great post and analysis. Maybe I will watch it tonight as it hasn't aired yet on the West Coast!

  2. I love reality TV for those reasons you mention and I just watched this show last night. A lot of the same could be said for many reality shows. For example The Biggest Loser … change and motivation.

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